With the conviction of Dr. Xiulu Ruan and Dr. John Patrick Couch behind them, federal prosecutors have moved on to sentencing some of the co-conspirators they claim made the doctors “massive pill mill” in Mobile possible.
However, those same co-conspirators — most of whom were former employees of Physicians Pain Specialists of Alabama — also testified for the prosecution and proved to be key witnesses to a lot of the government’s allegations.
Bridgette Parker, a former nurse practitioner at PPSA, was the first to be sentenced last week, receiving 20 months in federal prison for her role in what prosecutors say was a “criminal enterprise” — half of what it would have been had she not testified against Ruan and Couch.
In a statement on Wednesday, Steve Butler, the acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, didn’t shy away from the role Parker’s corporation played in her sentence.
“Had she not assisted as she did, Ms. Parker would undoubtedly be spending more than 20 months in federal prison,” Butler said. “Dr. Ruan and Dr. Couch could not have operated their criminal enterprise to the degree they did without the active assistance of Ms. Parker.”
Parker was involved with PPSA for a number of years, a job she took after completing her master’s degree in nursing. She was hired as a nurse practitioner at PPSA under Ruan but was fired in December of 2012. However, she was then hired by Couch the same day.
In a plea agreement that required her to be a witness for the prosecution, Parker admitted to prescribing various controlled medications without “a legitimate medical purpose” including a pair of instant release fentanyl drugs that were central to anti-kickback violations Ruan and Couch were both convicted of.
At trial, Parker testified to regularly seeing patients without any oversight from either of the doctors and would often get her fellow nurse practitioner and co-defendant, Justin Palmer, to forge Couch’s signature on prescriptions for controlled medications.
Parker’s own drug abuse was also brought up during the trial, where evidence suggested she’d used drugs while at the office and had frequently been impaired while attending to patients at PPSA.
“It is disheartening when trusted professionals like nurse practitioners are engaged in the diversion of controlled substances,” DEA Assistant Special Agent Bret Hamilton said. “The conviction and sentence of Bridgette Parker is a result of DEA’s continued commitment to holding accountable those who participate in illegally dispensing [drugs] in our communities.”
With Parker’s punishment established, the list of co-conspirators yet to be sentenced has dropped to three including Palmer, former pharmaceutical sales rep Natalie Reed Perhacs and Christofer Manfuso — a drug distributor who testified to providing kickbacks to Ruan and Couch.